Safe Schools/Healthy Students Initiative Opens Doors in Covington, KY
Partnership is indispensable to the short- and long-term success of each Safe Schools/ Healthy Students (SS/HS) initiative. Whether a grant site has bolstered existing partnerships or created new partnerships, each SS/HS grant collaborative knows that strong and meaningful relationships are essential to reducing the incidence and countering the effects of violence and substance abuse among youth in its community.
In Kentucky, Covington Independent Public Schools (CIPS) used SS/HS grant funds to build on programs and services started by Covington Partners in Prevention, a budding community partnership that created a comprehensive network of integrated support services for students and families called Ready to Learn. In a little more than 3 years, Covington Partners in Prevention has become a large coalition of community partners that has served as the vehicle for the initiative's sustainability.
Ready to Learn
With a population of more than 43,000 people, Covington is located on the southern bank of the Ohio River, just a stone's throw from Cincinnati. When Covington schools received a three year SS/HS grant for $5.7 million in 2001, staff members already were educating their community about the importance of substance abuse and violence prevention by using resources and services provided by Covington Partners in Prevention. However, the needs of the community were great. At the time, three of the five elementary schools struggled with having some of the State's lowest test scores. Working together, the school district and Covington Partners in Prevention created and implemented the Ready to Learn
initiative with the goal of reducing barriers to learning among students. Ready to Learn
worked toward this goal by focusing on four areas: drug and violence prevention, physical and mental health promotion, staff member training and support, and family strengthening.
Programs provided by the Ready to Learn
initiative range from mentoring and family therapy to substance abuse counseling and parent programming. Students and families are offered support that is geared toward their needs so that students can come to school each day ready to learn. Programs and services such as the Covington Parent Academy, school-based mental health counseling, Functional Family Therapy, Second Step, and school security assistants have proved successful and are helping to remove the obstacles to achievement that many children and families face.
Another success story in Covington is their approach to sustainability. Covington Partners in Prevention has become an independent nonprofit organization that continues to develop resources for a wide variety of student support programs. Even after SS/HS funding ends, Covington students will continue to benefit from these supports that help them get ready to learn.
Starting Out With Sustainability
Ready to Learn project staff members and Covington's district leaders recognized the need to focus on sustainability from the outset. For them, the key was to ensure that fruitful programs continued to serve students rather than to disappear once the SS/HS grant ended. Feeling the squeeze for funding dollars, they realized that it would be impossible for the school district to generate the budget to maintain the initiative; therefore, it would be necessary to approach the community for support. At the same time they were establishing partnerships and getting Ready to Learn programs underway, they also were exploring ways to achieve sustainability. The group soon realized that sustainability would require a well-developed communications and development plan.
Initial communication efforts focused on building the foundation of support for the schools by acknowledging the need for change and encouraging the entire community to get involved. Outreach efforts started with meetings and presentations to key community stakeholders, such as neighborhood organizations, faith-based groups, media, and businesses. These stakeholders were enlisted as volunteers, mentors, sponsors, and donors. Eventually, Ready to Learn
was positioned as a tent pole in the school district's comprehensive plan for improvement.
In addition, Ready to Learn
project staff members developed a useful and informative Web site (www.readytolearn.us
), began a regular newsletter, and developed strong media relationships that led to extensive coverage of Ready to Learn
. This publicity effectively has attracted participation from members of a wide variety of target audiences. The estimated value of the media coverage exceeds $150,000.
Covington Partners in Prevention and Ready to Learn
staff members also shared their perspectives with others in the community by serving on committees and boards for local organizations, including the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.
Covington's strategy of building relationships through communications and outreach efforts has paid off. "The SS/HS grant has helped our schools on many levels," said Jack Moreland, superintendent of CIPS. "First, it allows us to offer a variety of services that normally wouldn't be provided. Second, it has helped us in terms of partnering with multiple agencies in the greater community and has strengthened the working relationship with those agencies. Third, it has raised the awareness of our youngsters' needs to a degree that other entities are stepping forward to offer us help in various situations. It has truly been a win-win."
Partnering for Sustainability
As Covington Partners in Prevention continued to grow, they assessed their fundraising potential, and the results were promising. The assessment revealed that the initiative's efforts and outreach were changing public opinion—due in large part to the success of the coalition's and school district's efforts to garner support from businesses and other organizations. In 2003, the leadership and members of Covington's Partners in Prevention decided to register the group as an independent nonprofit organization, which enhances their ability to raise money to sustain Ready to Learn and other important district programs.
Currently, there are more than 100 partners in Covington Partners in Prevention, and their monthly meetings have an average attendance of 50 people. Members continue to show their enthusiasm in many ways. Volunteers devote their time to Covington's schools and children. Business partners also find new and exciting ways to be involved. For instance, Citigroup has donated more than $30,000, and a representative of the company is a member of Covington Partners in Prevention's board of directors.
Sustaining the Effort
Community commitment to Covington Partners in Prevention has not waned with the end of SS/HS funding. The coalition continues to work with school leadership and their members to ensure that the services offered to Covington's students and their families will continue. Ready to Learn
and other programs underwent rigorous evaluations to ensure that they are meeting the needs of the students.
Today, students in Covington are making great strides in academic achievement as barriers to success are removed. Seed money from an SS/HS grant has prepared Covington Partners in Prevention and CIPS to sustain many Ready to Learn
programs that are changing the lives of students and families.
Again and again, the success stories of SS/HS initiatives in communities across the country begin with a solid foundation of strong partnerships. Covington is just one example of what communities can accomplish when everybody joins together for the common interest of making their schools safe and healthy places where youth can learn and look forward to bright futures.
"People want to help, but they can't until you open the doors and invite them in," said Warner Allen, resource development coordinator for CIPS. If there is a single moral to take away from Covington's story, that is it.